As I was searching ESPN.com to try and find a topic to write my column on, a few different things caught my eye. First, one of the main headlines on their site read “Butch Jones told Tennessee WR he ‘betrayed the team’ for helping alleged assault victim.” Directly next to this story, in a sidebar on the site, was a smaller news story from Jeff Legwold, with a sub-header that read: “John Elway said he met with Peyton Manning two nights ago and that Manning ‘still needs more time’ to decide on retirement.” I thought it was an unfortunate pairing of stories, with Manning having been named as one of the primary instances in a lawsuit about the culture surrounding sexual assault on the University of Tennessee’s campus.
As I read on, I came across another sidebar of related college football stories. I noticed a headline that read: “Baylor’s CFP title march starts today.” Having just read about Tennessee, I recalled an Outside the Lines story I had read about a month ago regarding a wholesale dismissal of more than six rape charges against former Baylor defensive end Tevin Elliott.
If this is the world we live in, one where the NCAA — a governing body that claims to have control over the climate around college athletics — can be featured in stories about graphic sexual assault and championship hopes on the same web page, then it is, without question, time to disband this organization.
Without repeating the entirety of the OTL Baylor story, here is the quote that Elliott gave when interviewed over phone in a local jail, where he is currently serving a 20-year sentence after having finally been convicted in one of the cases:
“College athletes go through this all the time. Not just myself, I’m talking about Jameis Winston, Case McCoy. So many athletes go through this every year, because we’re the big athletes, and we’re sitting on a pedestal, and they feel like they have to try to make us look bad. At the end of the day, we could be innocent, but we’re guilty until proven innocent.”
College athletes most certainly do not go through this all the time. College athletes do not get accused of raping a half dozen women who did not have any significant relation to each other — like Elliott was — and then turn out to be completely innocent. College athletes do not get accused of sexual assault in 1996 — as Manning was — sweep it under the rug, harangue the victim in a book, give the ensuing libel case the clerical run-around and then turn out to have been at no fault in the end. These are not things that happen to college athletes. These are things that the NCAA and its member colleges allow their athletes to use as fallbacks for unspeakable, despicable behavior that should not be tolerated in any corner of the world.
But it is more than tolerated in sports — it’s wholeheartedly encouraged. Right now, we promote athletes to be larger than life. It’s the basis on which they’re recruited. Come to University of XYZ, you’ll be the big man on campus. People will worship the ground you walk on. You’ll be a celebrity the day you set foot here. You can do no wrong. It’s no surprise that’s what they believe when they do horrible, horrible wrong.
Title IX went into effect on June 23, 1973. Baylor hired a Title IX coordinator in November of 2014. For 41 years, Baylor neglected to actively enforce a law that stood for equal treatment under the law of women in higher education. In 2011, the NCAA sent a reminder to its lagging participants to hire Title IX coordinators if they had not. Baylor lollygagged their way to hiring someone about four years after that, opening the door for this string of sexual assaults. The NCAA poked and prodded them, but never actually sanctioned the school. What good does coaxing schools to hire someone do when you’re allowing countless violations of the rights of women on campus?
There is no recovery for this organization. There is no “whoops, we’re sorry.” There is no going back — not for the women whose lives were harmed by this negligence, or by the money-hungry organization that promoted it. The only way to amend these wrongdoings is to replace. Not with more men in charge, who cannot possibly understand the horror of going through a situation like this, but with women, and with people who have had formal training in diversity and sensitivity and handling sexual assault. The model of hoping that the rich white men in charge of large sports organizations will figure things out has failed enough times for me to pretty certainly say that it’s going to continue failing. If you’re at the point where you need to replace everyone at the highest levels, you’re better off blowing it up and starting from scratch with an entirely new organization.
Name me one massive, Division I university in which a woman can walk into a party full of athletes, be intoxicated and feel safe, and I’ll name you 10 where she can’t. This has gone on long enough. Disband the NCAA, immediately.
Email Bobby Wagner at [email protected]